Hitchcock’s Leading Men At Their Best

In the UK we have recently been treated to Saturday matinée showings on BBC2 from the master of suspense. I have made it clear from my previous blogs how much of a fan I am of Alfred Hitchcock’s so my expectations were once again high when watching ‘Rear Window’ and ‘North by Northwest’. Both films appeared on the 1998 and 2007 AFI top 100 movie list and starred perhaps my favourite leading men of the Golden Age period Jimmy Stewart and Cary Grant.

Once again I made my brother Sati watch them with me, I’m trying to rope in my Dad but for some reason he doesn’t seem too bothered in going through the list. I think he is upset that none of the Dirty Harry movies or Westerns starring Clint Eastwood are featured in the ‘Hundred years, Hundred movies’ countdown so dismisses it as rubbish. To think of it the only Eastwood movie included is ‘Unforgiven’(#98, #68) which was made years after his prime – I’ll let Dad know when I get to it.

Before I played ‘Rear Window’ (1998 #42, 2007 #48) I told Sati ‘You’ll know the story’ – obviously I was referring to Simpson’s tribute in ‘Bart of Darkness’ when Bart breaks his leg, is confined to his room and suspects Flanders of killing his wife, which is pretty much the synopsis of the 1954 original. Although Stewart is a photographer and not a yellow 10-year-old cartoon character and rather than having Lisa as his sidekick he has the ever glamorous Grace Kelly who Sati refers to as ‘Boom’ which I think is a good thing. Perhaps my favourite character is Stella the maid played by Thelma Ritter who like the two main characters has her suspicions the whereabouts of the wife of neighbour played by Raymond Burr. So what if she is a carbon copy of her character in ‘All about Eve’ her sharp one liners brings humour to the screenplay which is much-needed in this rollercoaster of suspense.

The Simpsons pay homage to ‘Rear Window’ in ‘Bart of Darkness’

Kelly is as usual competent in her supporting role and despite the huge age gap between her and the protagonist their romance is believable. It doesn’t seem creepy – It just works. The film is a shot in a typical Hitchcock stylish manner – his love for panoramic wide shots is evident in this movie as wells as his fascination for voyeurism which is explored further in Psycho (1960). It is the epitome of a Hitchcock movie so if you have never been fortunate to see one of his movies then start with this. The pace of the movie is faster than ‘Vertigo’ (#61, #9) so you are at the edge of your seat throughout. I give this 4 out of 5 stars.

James Stewart gets nosey

Last night I finally managed to view ‘North by Northwest’ (#40, #55) which is dubbed as the blueprint for all the James Bond movies that followed suit. Rumour has it that Grant (who was a Bristolian) was first asked to play the iconic double agent, but turned it down because he only fancied playing it once and didn’t want to get bogged down in the franchise. I and Sati agree it was a right move; it would ruin his legacy if he was always associated with the famous Martini drinking English man – although it may save me from explaining to the youngins who he actually is when I mention him. Either way the role fits Cary like a glove – he is perfect as advertising executive mistaken for a double agent who is pursued across the country by an organisation hoping to prevent him from interfering with their plans to smuggle government secrets. Like Ritter his charisma and wit bring some light relief to the film.

Timeless Style Icon - Cary Grant's photo in a barbershop in South West London

Timeless Style Icon – Cary Grant’s photo in a barbershop in South West London

The plot is more complex than any Hitchcock movie I’ve seen but it makes even more exciting. Eva Marie Saint speaks about North by Northwest of ‘On the Waterfront’(#8, #19) fame and still going strong at 90 years old play his love interest. Perhaps she can be viewed as the prototype for the typical bond girl we have come to know and love in modern cinema – she possess as the qualities of one: extremely beautiful (Hitchcock sure loved his blondes) but with a dark secret and extremely untrustworthy. You never know if she is on the side of Grant or out to frame him until the end.

The budget for this was a whopping $4.2 million which seems like pennies today, but in 1959 it took you a long way. This movie is as close as Hitchcock got to a full-blown action blockbuster and he put the budget to good use in the famous plane chasing scene and the climax at Mount Rushmore where the two leads are chased by the perpetrators to the historic landmark. There are moments in final scenes when even I was feeling like Jimmy Stewart in Vertigo. My only complaint is that like most Hitchcock movies the ending seems abrupt – 4.5 out of 5 for this.

69 seen – 54 left to go

Fear of Heights, Assistants & Wolves

The second bank holiday just passed in the UK and you know what that means – more classic movies to catch up with. I managed to watch 3 films featured on The American Film Institute’s top 100 movies of all-time list over the long weekend. I’m trying to cut back on big nights out to get that toned abs look in time for the Summer – so pretty much stayed home all weekend and thought I’d make a dent on the list.

First up was a movie I have been anticipating since I staggered upon the countdown all those years ago and that was ‘Vertigo’. Considered Hitchcock’s finest work and starring one of the classic period’s biggest stars James Stewart – the movie had a lot to live up to and it climbed up an astounding 52 spots on the revised list from #62 to #9. I even convinced my sister Nicky who doesn’t think any movie made before 1985 is worthy of her time that “This is the one to watch”. I was expecting suspense, superb acting and a gripping plot – it had all that, but something was missing. Maybe the hype was too high that it could never live up to it, but I felt it was at times too slow and perhaps too long (it didn’t help that Nicky kept asking how long left). The movie though was shot beautifully and the chemistry between Kim Novak and Stewart was electric, but I’m not too sure how this could be Hitchcock’s highest place movie on the chart (don’t tell anyone, but I liked ‘Dial M for Murder’ more) I’d give it 3 out of 5 – perhaps like contemporary critics my appreciation for the ‘Vertigo’ will increase over time.

James Stewart & Kim Novak in ‘Vertigo’

Next up is perhaps my favourite picture of all time so five out of five even before I review. I’ve seen it before, but I again convinced Nicky to watch ‘All about Eve’ (1998 #16, 2007 #28) on Sunday night. I was slightly nervous because I love the film so much and would be so disappointed if she didn’t feel the same – thankfully she did. What I love about this picture apart from the witty screenplay, immense acting and all around awesomeness is how relevant the plot is today 65 years after it was released. Everyone wants to be famous and they will do anything to get there – we’ve seen it before, I can imagine one of the Kardashians relating to Eve so the film is timeless. Perhaps the dinner party is my favourite scene, Davies (who should have taken a joint Oscar with Gloria Swanson that year. Judy who?) is as catty and sharp as ever and Marilyn Monroe makes a pre-superstar appearance playing her ditsy self. The camera loves her and she is indeed a star, but I couldn’t help but share the same sentiments as Nicky when she said “She plays the same dumb blonde role all the time with the stupid voice”- Perhaps someone like Gloria Swanson, Shelly Winters or Natalie Wood deserved her place on the 50 Greatest Stars of all time.

Watch the gala premiere of ‘ All about Eve’ – Davies brings her mother as her plus one. How cute.

The final film I forced myself to watch was ‘Dances with Wolves’ which was on TV yesterday- actually my Brother Sati convinced me to see it – you see I’m pretty reluctant to see anything Western (I still haven’t seen ‘The Searchers’ yet) and especially if it has Kevin Costner in it, but it was featured at #75 on 1998 list, so it would be another one to cross off. I was pretty surprised to see the movie trending on Twitter when it aired and I even tweeted ‘Not bad for a Kevin Costner movie’. The plot was solid but what particularly impressed me was Costner’s directing which won an Academy award it was far better than his at times stiff acting and unbearable narration. The film is worth seeing even if just for the scene where they chase the buffalos – I really hope no animals were hurt during the filming of this epic movie that took five years to make and at times felt as long to watch. But what do you expect from a Western War film? I’d give it three stars.

See Kevin Costner winning Best Director at the 1991 Oscars

I’ve set my Sky Planner for ‘North by Northwest’ and ‘Rear Window’ – Come on Hitchcock, Grant and Stewart! Don’t disappoint!

Missed Opportunity 

So here is the list I have been desperately trying to complete last few years and it’s safe to say it has taken over my life a bit; every Sunday night I routinely search the Sky Planner schedule for the next few weeks in hope to record a film that I haven’t seen on my list. This week I haven’t been so vigilant – two films I have been looking forward to watch came on U.K. television this week and I missed them – ‘The Philadelphia story’ (#51 ’98, #44 ’07) and ‘North by Northwest’ (#40 ‘98, #55 ‘07) both staring my favourite classic Hollywood actor Cary Grant. I’m kicking myself!

Cary Grant

Last night just before I prepared myself for the day ahead and after hours of flicking in between forgettable television shows I saw the movie I have been anticipating to watch ever since I started this damn challenge, but I was 20 minutes too late and there was no later showing on BBC4 for one of Hitchcock’s greatest triumphs – it looked so good and had the thrill factor of a James Bond film but the sophistication only the master of suspense could bring, but I refused to carry on watching as I hadn’t seen it from the start – which is a criteria I try to adhere to when completing this task.  So I reluctantly turned my TV off and complained to anyone who would listen to me before going to bed.

Well at least I still have ‘The Searchers’ (#96, #12) recorded on my Sky Box – although I’m not as excited about seeing a Western staring John Wayne – but then again it jumped a whopping 84 places on the 2007 list which means it might like fine wine – better the more times you watch it. I must sit down and have a go soon before someone at home deletes the recording.

In the meantime I’ll just watch the trailer for ‘North by Northwest’ and ‘The Philadelphia Story’ again. The aeroplane scene in ‘North by Northwest’ is perhaps the most iconic image in cinema history!

Do you agree? Or do you think the ‘I’m king of the world’ scene in Titanic is more memorable or maybe Monroe’s dress scene in ‘The Seven year Itch’?

Iconic Titanic ‘King Of The World’ scene

Legendary Marilyn Monroe

The American Film Institute challenge!

Around two years ago approximately on the 5th January after feeling the effects of indulging over the Christmas period (of feeling mostly guilty) I decided rather than promising myself to get a six-pack or get a job in the media industry (which I have unsuccessfully trying to pursue for the last seven years) for that years New Year’s Resolution I thought I would do something more achievable and fun. So I set myself the task of watching all the movies featured on The American Film Institute’s top 100 list of all time.

Sounds straight forward right? But how wrong was I? Not only were there two lists – one from 1998 and an updated version on 2007 which means there were in fact 123 films to get through but some of the older films were extremely difficult to get hold of thanks to Sky getting rid of their classic movie channel and replacing it with a modern great movies channel which considers films like ‘Barb-Wire’ to be a worthy movie.

 So this task is challenging to say the least, but I am loving every minute of it and I thought I will document my journey with reviews, thoughts and the obstacles I face until I get to the end – this will be the first New Year’s Resolution that I will complete even if I am 2 years too late!